Russell Westbrook and James Harden are Co-MVPs


The NBA has never had Co-MVPs. That should change this year.

The 2016-17 NBA season has provided us with one of the most entertaining MVP races in a very long time. Russell Westbrook and James Harden continue to up the ante in the race for their first MVP award. Outside of those two, there are multiple players who would win the MVP race in a typical year. Unfortunately for them, this is not your typical NBA season.

LeBron James has been so great for so long that we have become numb to it. This season he is averaging 25.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.4 assists per 36 minutes. Russell Westbrook deservedly receives all of the attention for his triple-double tear but it often goes unmentioned that Lebron flirts with triple-doubles on a regular basis. LeBron is also one of only three players in the NBA this season to average over 8 rebounds and 8 assists per 36 minutes. His 26.9 PER also ranks 6th in the NBA amongst players who have played at least 59 games this season. His true shooting percentage of 61.7 percent ranks higher than both Westbrook (55.3 percent) and Harden (61.3 percent) as well.

Kawhi Leonard continues to get better and better every season. He is a walking example that a team doesn’t need a lottery pick to draft a superstar as he was drafted with the 15th overall pick in 2011. Leonard has posted the best PER of his career at 28.6, ranking 3rd in the NBA this season. He also has a better Offensive Rating (121) and Defensive Rating (102) than either Westbrook or Harden. Leonard is the rare superstar who can shut down an opposing team’s best player on one end and then drop 25 points on the other. Check out Lebron’s reaction to Leonard re-entering the game:

Giannis Antetokounmpo is another player who has flown under the MVP radar. He may be a step below the rest of the guys who have been mentioned but his uniqueness deserves to be mentioned. Giannis stuffs the whole stat sheet on a nightly basis. He averages 23.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes. Those are overall numbers that are almost unparalleled in NBA history.He has also led a flawed Milwaukee Bucks team to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Those

Even given the great seasons LeBron, Leonard, and Antetokounmpo are having, there are two players who stand above the rest. Russell Westbrook and James Harden are putting on an MVP race never before seen in the NBA. It brings me back to the home run chase Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire had in 1998.

James Harden’s transformation to full-time point guard has been nothing short of astonishing. Transitioning to point guard is a lot more difficult than Harden has made it look, which makes the casual fans wonder why more superstars aren’t handed the reigns more often. Harden leads the NBA in assists per 36 at 11.1. Even though his turnovers are sky high at 5.7 per 36, his assist percentage still ranks second in the NBA at 50.4 percent.

The Rockets have beautifully assembled the perfect team around their superstar. They have four shooters on the floor at all times in order to keep the driving lanes open for Harden. This allows Harden more space to operate in the half court set. Harden can drive to the rim any time he wants and has a plethora of options at his disposal. The most likely outcomes of a Harden drive are; a sweet dish, either for a dunk or an open three, to his teammates, a crafty Harden finish, or two free throws. Harden averages the most free throw attempts per game this season, 10.8, and knocks down 85.2 percent of them.

James Harden is also second in the NBA with 20 triple-doubles this season. Despite Westbrook doubling him for the most in the NBA, that is still an impressive feat. After finishing second to Steph Curry in the 2014-15 MVP race, Harden had a down year by his standards in 2015-16. He has bounced back beautifully this year and has led the Rockets to the third-best record in the NBA. Harden is doing most of this by himself. He isn’t on a team that is loaded with superstars, or even any All-Stars for that matter. His team has been masterfully crafted to fit his strengths to a tee. Harden plays in a free-flowing system that maximizes everything he does well. Even despite Harden’s career year, he finds himself in another tough battle for the MVP. This time with Russell Westbrook.

Russell Westbrook has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Oklahoma City Thunder. After Durant left this offseason, Westbrook has been permanently stuck in a pissed-off mode. He attacks the paint with such a ferociousness that even the rim quivers in his shadow. Similar to Harden, this year’s version of the Thunder were put together to fit their superstar’s strengths. The Thunder had little time to pivot directions once Durant left town but they have done a good job of quickly getting complimentary pieces in place for Westbrook. By this I mean they have mostly acquired players who excel at playing off the ball. This is important because Westbrook has a usage percent of 40.1, which ranks first in the NBA.

Russell Westbrooks 30.6 PER is tops in the NBA. As I previously mentioned, he also has 40 triple-doubles this season. That is one short of the single-season triple-double record held by Oscar Robertson. Westbrook is even on pace to average a triple double for the whole damn season. He is averaging 31.9 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 10.4 assists, all career highs. Despite the lack of talent surrounding Westbrook he still has the Thunder in sixth place in the Western Conference.

So how do you choose between the two players? My answer is that you don’t. Both Russell Westbrook and James Harden are equally deserving of the MVP award in their own right. I know this isn’t the popular answer, especially in an age where participation awards are becoming more and more despised, but co-MVP’s is the right decision. Besides, having co-MVP’s is far from a participation award. It shows that two players can have equally great seasons and both be rewarded for their efforts. Even with co-MVPs, there are still  448 losers throughout the rest of the NBA. Russell Westbrook and James Harden, your 2016-17 NBA co-MVPs.

About Eric Peterson

The Lead's Chief of Content

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